Design thinking is not just for hipsters….

In recent months, I have been exploring design thinking, a practice I first encountered nearly 20 years ago (when it was called user-centred design). Whether we are talking about UX/UI, CX, human-centred design, service design or even “boring” process improvement, it’s important to realise that this is not just the domain of hipsters – everyone can, and needs to understand how these design thinking techniques can build better product and service outcomes in multiple applications. Here are three real-world examples to consider:

Curved Space-Diamond Structure by Peter Pearce, Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan (Photo © Rory Manchee, all rights reserved)

Curved Space-Diamond Structure by Peter Pearce, Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan (Photo © Rory Manchee, all rights reserved)

1. Financial Services – a case of putting the cart before the horse?

A major bank was designing a new FX trading system, to replace a labour-intensive legacy system, and to streamline the customer experience. The goal was to have more of a self-service model, that was also far more timely in terms of order processing, clearing and settlement.

The design team went ahead and scoped the front end first, because they thought that this was most important from a customer perspective (and it was also a shiny and highly visible new toy!). However, when I heard about this focus on the front end, I was prompted to ask, “What will the customer experience be like?” By automating the process from a front end perspective, the proposed design would significantly diminish the need for customer interaction with relationship managers, and it meant they would have less direct contact with the bank. Whereas, part of the bank’s goal was to enhance the value of the customer relationship, especially their priority clients.

Also, by starting with the front-end first, the design did not take into account the actual mechanics and logistics of the middle and back office operations, so there were inevitable disconnects and gaps in the hand-off processes at each stage of the transaction. (This is a common mistake – a colleague who consults in the retail sector told me about the online storefront for a major retail chain that looked really pretty, but revealed no understanding of the established supply chain logistics and back-office order fulfilment processes.)

The bank team had a rethink of the storyboarding and workflow analysis, to make sure that the customer experience was streamlined, but that there were still adequate opportunities for customer touch points between client and relationship manager along the way.

2. Construction industry – inside and looking inwards

Another colleague told me of a specialist supplier in the construction industry, that was undertaking a review of their processes and service design model. From an internal perspective, everything looked fine. The customer orders came in, they went into production, and were then delivered according to the manufacturing schedule.

However, there were two stages in the process, that did not work so well from a customer perspective:

First, customers did not receive any confirmation or acknowledgment that the order had been submitted; so they might be worried that their order had not been received.

Second, once the order had gone into production, there was no further customer communication until it was ready to be delivered. Meanwhile, the client’s own schedule might have slipped, so they might not be ready to take delivery (we’ve all seen those moments on “Grand Designs”). Resulting in the supplier having to hold unpaid for work-in-progress in their warehouse.

For the supplier, it was a simple case of implementing a formal acknowledgment process, and a check in with the client prior to fabrication and a follow-up prior to delivery to make sure schedules were aligned.

3. Energy sector – gaining empathy in the field

A friend of mine ran a local distribution and installation business for an international supplier of energy switching gear. They specialised in remote operating systems, most notably used in indigenous communities. Head office was in Europe, and the clients were in outback Australia – so communications could be challenging. The overseas engineers would not always appreciate how time critical or simply inconvenient power outages or interruptions could be. “We’ll fix the software bugs in the next upgrade,” was usually the response.

Then the local business started inviting their European colleagues to come and work in the field, to get some downstream experience of how customers use their products. It was also a good opportunity to train technical staff on how to handle customers.

One time, a visiting engineer was in a remote community, trying to fix a power operating system. When Europe said they would take care of it in the next upgrade, the engineer pointed out that he was with the client there and then, and that without power, the community could not function properly, and that Head Office had to solve the problem immediately, even if it meant working overnight. The issue was sorted right away.

If nothing else, the visiting engineer, schooled in siloed processes and internal systems at Head Office, had managed to gain empathy from working directly in the field.*

While none of these examples seems to involve cutting edge design thinking, they do reveal some fundamental service design and product development concepts: the need for empathy, the value of prototyping and testing, the role of user scenario and workflow analysis, and the importance of challenging existing processes, even if they seem to be working fine on the inside.

*Footnote: This reminds me of a time many years ago when I was travelling around Beijing in the back of a cab, between client visits, calling my production team in the US, asking them to investigate a problem the local customers were having in accessing our subscriber website. “The Chinese government must be blocking the site”, I was told. Given that most of the clients were state-owned enterprises, or government departments, I thought this was unlikely. Turns out that the IT team in the States had “upgraded” the SSL without informing anyone and without doing multiple site testing first. Some clients had problems logging on from slower internet services, because the connections timed out. Being in the field, and speaking directly after witnessing the client experience for myself enabled me to convince my colleagues of what the cause actually was. Although we had to implement an interim workaround, going forward, every software upgrade or product modification was benchmarked against multiple test sites.

Next week: More on #FinTech, #Bitcoin and #Blockchain in Melbourne

Making the most of the moment…

I’m the first to admit that I am not very good at practising meditation. It’s not that I don’t aspire to a state of mindfulness, but I sometimes find it hard to “be in the moment”. It does not come easily or naturally to me, because I’m often too busy thinking about the objective context, rather than the subjective conscious experience. So it was really interesting to see this photo of myself at last weekend’s Global Service Jam, organised by the Melbourne Jam Team at Swinburne Design Factory, and supported by Deloitte Digital, the School of Design Thinking and Huddle.

“This is where the magic happens…” (Photo by Johan Pang – image sourced from Twitter)

This photo was probably taken about halfway through the 48-hour event. Our team had got to the stage where we had articulated our problem statement (after much ideation…), scoped a solution model, done some validation through research and field interviews, and refined our key persona, all supported by some feedback from role-play and scenario testing. We had also just completed a lightning prototyping workshop, so the team needed to decide the overall form of our proposed service design solution, and reach agreement on the presentation format. Although there was so much still to do, we were at risk of revisiting things that had already been decided, because it felt like there was some remaining uncertainty about our prototype and some of the choices we had made along the way.

I don’t recall the exact “moment” (how imprecise a measure of time is that word?) but without realising it I found myself almost urging the team to stick with our existing decisions, and work through the remaining tasks based on the information we had to hand. It was a subconscious reaction to the message we had been given in the prototyping workshop about making decisions based on “the authority of the moment”. (Thank you, Rez Ntoumos!)

Sure, we weren’t having to make split-second, life-or-death decisions under enormous pressure, but if there was any “magic” here, it was probably about being able to be in the zone – the willingness to submit to the situation, to go with the flow. Throughout the weekend, we were advised not to fall in love with a particular idea or solution, but at the same time we were encouraged to get behind the team decisions and the options we chose – partly to sustain momentum, and partly to make sure we met the project deadlines!

There is a huge lesson here, because it goes some way to addressing the dilemma that many organisations face in making and implementing decisions (be they boards, policy makers, executive teams, startups, project managers, entrepreneurs, product developers or designers….). While it’s important to have robust decision-making processes, and it’s vital to consider all available data, the quality of any decision may not rest on whether it was the “best” choice to make, because usually only the benefit of hindsight can tell you that. If, however, at the time, it seemed like the right or appropriate choice, then in that moment it has to be the best-available decision.

Of course, there needs to be governance, transparency, authority and information to support, justify and legitimise the decision. Good decisions are usually those which can be fully articulated, the reasons easily communicated, and the implications clearly understood. Then once a choice has been made, the organisation or team that gets right behind the decision is more likely to succeed in the execution. All organisations at some point make “bad” decisions or inappropriate choices, but I think more often, even good decisions can suffer through poor implementation.

I acknowledge the need to get better at meditating, to enhance mindfulness for both personal reflection and clarity of thinking. Above all I recognise the enormous value of making the most of the moment when it comes to decision-making.

Next week: Startup Victoria’s latest pitch night